- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - A colorful chart on the wall of the English as a New Language classroom in Beardsley Elementary School shows the six levels of English proficiency with a challenge to students above it: “How far will you climb this year?”

Paper cutouts labeled with student initials are hung above the chart based on the proficiency level they’ve reached on English assessments. While some students are still on the first step of Level 1, most have reached Level 3 or Level 4.

The Indiana Department of Education wants all students to reach the last steps on the chart - Levels 5 and 6, which represent proficiency in reading, writing and comprehension - and it wants students to reach those steps faster.

A new program at Beardsley aims to push students over “the hump” and to those final steps of mastering the English language. The program, called 30-30-30, is a partnership between the school and First Presbyterian Church.

Each week, 30 volunteers visit the school to work with 30 English language learners for 30 minutes. Well, that is how it works in theory. Currently, the program is more of 20-20-30 because the church only has 20 volunteers, which means 10 students are on a waiting list to participate.

“The one-on-one attention allows volunteers to focus on what the child is missing,” said Tammy Smith, who teaches English as a New Language at the school. “A child may be struggling with a grammar concept, but a teacher may not be able to hit on that in the moment like a mentor can.”

While the new program hopes to serve 30 students, there are many more than 30 in the school who are still learning the language. About 115 Beardsley students are English learners, a quarter of the school’s population.

The percentage of English language learners at the district level is slightly lower, with fewer than 1 in 5 students - or 2,269 of the district’s 13,083 students - classified as an English language learner. That percentage has stayed consistent for the past decade.

Each year, school districts are required to demonstrate to the state that they are meeting a set of annual measurable achievement objectives that measure how well schools are serving students with limited English language proficiency. Those objectives are:

Making progress, which is the percentage of students whose performance increased by a set amount.

Attainment, which is the percentage of students who attain fluency.

Adequate yearly progress, which is measured by how English learners perform on the ISTEP test.

While Elkhart Community Schools has been doing a good job helping the neediest English learners make progress, the district is now being asked to focus more on helping intermediate students reach proficiency. For four consecutive years, the district has failed to meet that attainment objective.

School officials have noted that being proficient means more than just being conversational in the English language. A student may be able to hold a conversation in what sounds like good English, but they’re missing the finicky “academic” language, such as knowing that the word “atypical” means the opposite of “typical” or that the word “point” has many different meanings (a basketball point, a point on an exam or the point a speaker is making, for example).

Because the district has not met the proficiency attainment objective recently, it is required to work with the state to develop an improvement plan to help English language learners reach proficiency. Officials have evaluated their two-year plans for the language programs, met with a case manager from the state and traveled to Indianapolis for one-on-one help with the improvement plan.

From that improvement plan, the 30-30-30 program was born at Beardsley.

One morning, several volunteers from First Presbyterian Church sat in the English as a New Language classroom and worked quietly with students.

Volunteer Lou Putnam was working with Juan-Oscar Rodriguez-Tilley. They were reading a book together, but every few minutes, they would take a break to give some loving to Putnam’s therapy dog, Birdie (she has another dog at home named Bogie, after the golf terms).

“We are beyond grateful to First Presbyterian,” Beardsley Principal Val Priller said. “They have done everything for us.”

She said the church is an example of a great community partner, and she will visit the church occasionally to talk about the school’s needs. The church has been involved with the school long before the start of this school year, so when church members learned about the need for focused English language mentoring, volunteers were quick to commit to 30-30-30.

Volunteers were trained in September on the goals of the program: to give students that extra push to achieve fluency. If students reach those final levels of bridging or reaching, they are significantly more likely to graduate from high school, Priller said.

Smith said she is hopeful the program, which started in September and should continue through the end of the school year, will help her students reach English proficiency. But school social worker Jan Beutter said even if there are no academic results, the relationships alone are worth it.

“The academic piece is the focus, but the relationship is so beneficial,” she said. “These adults are here just for them, and you can’t put a price on that.”

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Source: The Elkhart Truth, http://bit.ly/1iAZ6Hj

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Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com

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